For Lifelong Clients, Apply Lifelong
Learning ... About VO & Everything!
By Randye Kaye
Voice Actor and Coach
Okay, so you’ve already graduated from high school, college, whatever.
But education is a lifelong pursuit, and in the field of voice-over, everything you learn comes in handy.
And it’s not just about the specific basics your VO training has drummed into you: acting, diction, body language, pitch, tone, volume and tempo, etc.
Since over 90% of VO work is in the field of narrations, and since we all want our clients to hire us again, here are 10 things I have found helpful in my 20 years as a VO talent - with many valued clients who have continued to use my voice for new projects.
1. BASIC ENGLISH SKILLS
What? Grammar / Vocabulary / Reading Comprehension.
Why? Let’s face it, you are reading copy - and the more you understand, the more your listener will understand.
Sometimes you may clarify the copywriter’s intent by catching grammar inconsistencies. Likewise, the better your vocabulary, the fewer stumbling blocks you’ll have to understanding what you’re saying and thereby communicating it (and saying it correctly).
How? When you read, look up the words you don’t know. Help a 5th grader with homework.
Practice reading out loud (fiction, non-fiction), and then look away from the page and see if you understand what you just read.
What? The science or study of speech, the symbols that represent the sounds.
Why? Helpful for marking correct pronunciations (medical terms, foreign words) in the margins of your copy (doesn’t have to be standard linguistic symbols, just something you will understand!).
How? Study a dictionary, and see which symbols (e.g. a line over a vowel represents the “long” pronunciation – like the “a” in BAY; a curved line is the “short” version, like the “a” in BAT) work for you.
3. FOREIGN LANGUAGES
What? Anything that is not your native language!
Why? You’d be amazed how many phrases pop up that have their origins in other languages – plus, you get used to creating sounds that don’t occur in your native language. This has come in very handy for me when narrating audiobooks, or scripts about classical music.
How? Continuing Education classes, courses on CD or online.
4. COMPUTER SKILLS
What? Accounting software, database management, recording/editing programs, social networking (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), web design, the sky’s the limit.
Why? Sooner or later, you’ll need to manage your web site, record an audition from home, send out an email blast, post a YouTube video, manage your business accounting and marketing.
Plus, there are plenty of e-learning jobs out there, and you’d better be able to visualize what you’re talking about when you say, “Now, scroll down until you see the ‘next steps’ menu …”
How? Ed2Go, a series of online courses for all sorts of things (I learned QuickBooks there). Also:
5. LINGUISTICS / DICTION / VOICE
What? The way your voice is produced, and how your mouth helps create vowels and consonants, breath support, placement of sound.
Why? Articulation, accent reduction, pitch control and taking care of your instrument.
This is an excellent basis for creating animation/character voices and knowing how you did it, and where in your body it resonated.
How? Take some singing lessons, find a good speech therapist or accent reduction coach.
There are also some helpful CDs you can borrow from the library - or buy them (e.g., there are great vocal warm-ups in Singing for Dummies).
What? Nutrition, relaxation, the effects of smoking / medications, value of exercise, even neuroscience.
Why? Understand how your body, thoughts and voice are all connected. Learn which foods and beverages keep you hydrated and healthy.
Plus, there are plenty of medical narrations that are much easier if you know what you’re talking about!
How? Take classes: yoga (great for breathing/relaxation), nutrition, exercise/body movement, dance. Also:
7. ACTING / IMPROVISATION
What? Acting 101. Basics like,
On-camera skills - getting more subtle and focused.
Improvisation - staying in the moment, trust, creativity, teamwork, stretching your boundaries.
Why? Helps you create. Yes, even in narrations you need acting skills: imagine, visualize, have an intention when reading (to educate, to enlighten, to persuade?) and a character for yourself (Professor? Coach? Caring nurse? Parent? Buddy? Expert?).
Improvisation helps you relax, react, listen, go with the flow, work creatively within limitations, and so much more – plus, it’s fun.
How? in a big city, there are tons of classes to choose from. In other areas, colleges and local community theatres often offer courses.
Ask around. Search on Facebook (join a MeetUp Group there). Do some local theatre, but don’t expect to get rich - or even paid, usually.
This is one area where you can only do so much with a book. You can get basics, but it’s a people field, people.
8. PEOPLE SKILLS - COMMUNICATION
What? Communication skills, language of negotiation, plain old manners.
Why? You are dealing with business clients here, who also happen to be human beings.
Be nice. Keep your sense of humor whenever possible.
Some people need to be reminded how to do this. We’re a little rusty, what with all the iPods.
9. BUSINESS SKILLS
What? Finance / accounting / taxes, how to run a small business, marketing, online marketing, advertising, etc.
Why? Voiceover is your own small business. The more you know, the easier the business end becomes.
Get help and advice if you need it. But learn.
Need I add that the more business knowledge you have, the easier it is to be believable in business narrations?
How? Traditional routes are online and local classes - community colleges are usually inexpensive and thorough, and Continuing/Adult Ed in your area often gives a great overview.
There is also SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), plus networking groups where members share info/contacts/ideas.
And you could even volunteer for Junior Achievement and help students learn business basics - teaching is a great way to learn.
10. ANYTHING & EVERYTHING
What? Literature, history, biography, self-development, etc.
Why? You’ll be amazed what comes in handy, and can give you a marketing edge as well.
How? Read, read, read. Be a sponge. Learning is never lost.
BONUS: HOW THIS WORKS ...
Let me tell you how this can work for you.
Recently one day, I voiced two major projects:
For the first job, the client was present via phone patch for the session; for the second, questions were asked prior to recording, and then again prior to the edit, via email.
THE FIRST JOB ...
For the medical job in New York, I had received most of the script the day before the session, and got revisions in the studio waiting room.
I pre-read it, making sure I understood what the content was about (Reading Comprehension Skills).
I marked the copy for phrasing and meaning, noting any unclear areas (Grammar and Vocabulary), and circled words that I wasn’t sure how to pronounce. This way, most questions could be asked up front, saving time.
I wrote the correct pronunciation in the margin (Phonetics), and asked about the uncertainties:
My “real-life” volunteer work in the mental health field has helped me gain knowledge, and enabled me to:
I kept my water handy and used breathing/stretching to stay focused (Health).
SECOND JOB, AT HOME ...
Later, back at home, I voiced the real estate e-learning piece.
Years ago, I took a class in real estate - just enough to know that I did not want to go into that field! It was much more complicated than I’d thought, plus you have to dress too nicely.
But I had picked up enough terms to help me, years later, to narrate this project.
As I read, I spotted a few phrases that didn’t make sense to me, and so I voiced “alts” - alternative reads, for you newbies - as I was going, and then emailed the client to see which reads she would prefer.
This saved time for the client, saved me from re-recording certain phrases - and the client was grateful I had - in a nice way - caught the inconsistencies (People Skills!).
PROOF FOR FREE
Never charge for “proofreading,” by the way. They did not ask you to do this! It just makes you more valuable if you can be genuinely helpful.
Some of my long-standing clients will even ask me to write suggestions during a session, because they’ve learned to trust my judgment and creativity. This takes time!
The moral of the story is: never stop learning ... about voice-over skills, yes. But also about everything.
Be well-rounded. Your knowledge and experience are part of the package you offer as a VO talent.
Plus, it makes it more fun! Learn, learn, learn.
ABOUT RANDYE ...
Randye Kaye provides “Intelligent, creative voice-overs and more” for clients such as Continental Airlines, Priceline.com, Dannon, Hilton Hotels, and Kyocera, and remains an enthusiastic lifelong learner. She is also a VO coach with Edge Studio in NYC, CT and DC.